Tim Hughes gets into the Yuletide spirit at the Christmas markets of Düsseldorf

Quaint stalls selling old-fashioned crafts, pretty lights, traditional music and the aroma of roasting nuts and mulled wine... No one does Christmas like the Germans, and their festive markets are justifiably famous.

As a nation, we can’t get enough of Christmas markets, tens of thousands of us jetting over to Germany for a traditional taste of Yuletide every winter. And while many British towns and city’s stage their own, they are very pale imitations indeed.

Most tourists head to the large markets in Dresden, Frankfurt, Berlin or, most popular of all Cologne – and with good reason. Seeking something different, however, we drove down to little Bristol Airport, boarded a BMI plane and hopped over to another great Rhineland city – Düsseldorf.

The heart of Germany’s industrial powerhouse, this proud city – the country’s seventh biggest – works hard and plays hard.

While synonymous with cutting-edge architecture and equally striking new art and music (this is where electro-pop pioneers Kraftwerk have their studio), it is an ancient city, with a past which stretches back to antiquity. Its Kaiserpfalz, with Friedrich Barbarossa’s 12th-century fortifications, was a seat of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Stay at the shining new Maritim Hotel, handily right next door to the airport and a very quick train ride into town, and explore this easy-going city – the centre of the country’s fashion scene and rich in music culture and sport. And, of course, shopping. Its main shopping boulevard, Königsallee, or ‘Kö’ to the locals, is one of the world’s top retail destinations; imposing department stores, glitzy shopping malls, grand bank   buildings and designer stores draped along the banks of a tree-lined canal.

Heavily bombed in the Second World War, it nevertheless retains swathes of historic neighbourhoods, the best being in the Old Town – or  Aldstadt – which huddles along the riverfront.

This tangle of handsome streets, cosy lanes, cobbled courtyards and elegant squares is also home to the best Christmas markets.
There are many markets, each subtly different in character.

The Sternchenmarkt  –’Little Star Market’ – at the Stadtbrückchen is lit by shimmering crystals and features gorgeous jewellery and trendy crafts; Marktplatz in front of the pretty stone-built town hall, is a cluster of gingerbread-style huts selling arts and crafts, including beautiful handmade Christmas tree decorations; the Engelchenmarkt lites up the Old Town and Schadowplatz is transformed into a winter wonderland with a merry-go-round and reindeer.

Then there’s the Old Town itself, which, with 260 pubs, beer cellars, and restaurants, revels in the reputation as the world’s longest bar. Even after Christmas, the festivities continue in its bars as friendly locals down handled glasses of Germany’s best beer – the deliciously rich, top-fermented Altbier.

Away from the markets, board a boat for a cruise along the Rhine, passing cutting-edge Gehry-designed architecture, old churches and, towering above it all, the 240m-high needle of the Rheinturm.

Dynamic and confusing, Düsseldorf continually surprises. It also does Christmas like nowhere else – and that’s worth raising a glass to.

Maritim Hotel - Your Yuletide base in Dusseldorf

  • STAY at the first-class deluxe Maritim Hotel Düsseldorf. Contemporary in design, the hotel features 533 elegant rooms and suites, three restaurants and bars and a wellness area, with swimming pool, sauna and fitness centre.

One night’s accommodation in a double Comfort Room on a bed and breakfast basis starts from €157 per person, including free wifi.

Visit maritim.com

German Christmas markets: The pick of the festive rest...

Germany is famed for its Christmas markets. As well as Düsseldorf, we recommend the following four:

  • MOST POPULAR, Cologne

Cologne is by far the most popular Christmas Market in Germany, attracting millions of visitors from all over the world every year. A metropolis on the Rhine, the magic of Christmas can be felt throughout this festively decorated city.

The focal point is a huge Christmas tree in front of the cathedral. There is also a stage and ice rink.

BOOK IT: Fred Holiday (fredholidays.co.uk/0808 250 1480) offers two nights at the four-star Köln Maritim Hotel for £349pp including flights from London Gatwick based on a twin/double room B&B.

  • THE BIGGEST, Dresden

Renowned for its festive charm and romantic atmosphere, the Dresden Christmas Market, which dates back to 1434, is now the biggest in Germany, with the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid, the world’s largest nutcracker and the famous Stollen Festival.

BOOK IT: Fred Holiday (fredholidays.co.uk) offers two nights at the four-star Maritim Hotel Dresden for £459pp including flights from London Stansted and rail on to Dresden based on a twin/double room B&B.

  • THE OLDEST, Nuremberg

Steeped in history, the Nuremberg Christmas Market ‘Christkindlesmarkt’ is world famous, with traditions and festive fun at its heart. This pretty city provides a stunning backdrop for the Christmas Markets, with the festively decorated Old Town offering unrivalled beauty and an enchanting atmosphere.

BOOK IT: Fred Holidays (fredholidays.co.uk) offers two nights at the four-star Maritim Hotel Nürnburg for £359pp including flights from London Stansted based on a twin/double room B&B.

  • THE CAPITAL, Berlin

Berlin’s Weihnachtszauber is the best in town, with impressive buildings providing a beautiful backdrop to a cosy market with a gigantic Christmas tree.

BOOK IT: Fred Holidays (fredholidays.co.uk) offers two nights at the four-star Maritim Pro Arte Hotel in Berlin for £339pp including flights from London Stansted based on a twin/double room B&B.